Local mother, doctors part of study for first postpartum depression drug approved by FDA

For the first time a medication is approved to help new mothers with relief from postpartum depression. It’s not an easy pill to swallow and the cost is extravagant, but those in need say it’s worth it.

Patients commit to three days on an IV in the hospital.  It is a slow drip of a drug that is meant to rapidly wipe away depressive thoughts after pregnancy. It happens to 10 percent of new mothers.

Erika Mears was one of them.

“This is something that I’ve wanted my whole life, to be a mom, to have this sweet new baby,” she said. “He was perfect, and I was just not happy. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was sad, I was crying all the time.”

When her husband raised a red flag four weeks after their baby boy Ashton was born, Mears entered a clinical trial at Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital to test a possible postpartum depression relief medication. The study was a blind trial, which means she didn’t know if she got the drug. But she did know she felt better.

“When I arrived at the hospital, I felt very hopeless. My will to live even was not great, and, somehow, in a matter of three days, when I left I felt refreshed,” she said. “I felt positive like, ‘I can do this and it’s going to be ok.’”

Based on several multisite phase I and III clinical trials, which revealed improvement within hours in women with postpartum depression, the Food and Drug Administration acted and approved Zulresso.

Kimberly McCue is a perinatal intensive outpatient program at Amita hospital.

“All moms don’t want to wait,” she said. “They want to be able to feel like themselves, their best selves, and take care of their baby.”

Psychiatrists at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine said the drug is a synthetic form of a pregnancy related hormone. Hormones skyrocket during pregnancy, then rapidly plummet after birth.

Dr Graziano Pinna is a associate professor of psychiatry with UIC College of Medicine.

“This is associated with negative mood, with intrusive thoughts, with suicidal thoughts and nightmares,” Pinna said. “And it’s associated with rapid decrease of these neuro-hormones in the brain. The new treatment is able to induce a beneficial effect because we are supplementing the depleted levels. After a single infusion we have long-lasting effects and probably permanent effects.”

“I feel like it’s swept under the rug for a lot of women, and people are afraid to admit what they are going through, but I’m not,” Mears said.

Zulresso costs between $20,000 and $35,000. It is a one-time treatment that was originally planned to be an at-home infusion, but it is currently approved only to be administered in a hospital setting in a 60 hour IV. The company says it is working on a pill formulation of the drug.

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